Open Access

Plants as highly diverse sources of construction wood, handicrafts and fibre in the Heihe valley (Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi, China): the importance of minor forest products

Contributed equally
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine201713:38

https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-017-0165-8

Received: 23 February 2017

Accepted: 14 June 2017

Published: 30 June 2017

Abstract

Background

Chinese rural communities living among species-rich forests have little documentation on species used to make handicrafts and construction materials originating from the surrounding vegetation. Our research aimed at recording minor wood uses in the Heihe valley in the Qinling mountains.

Methods

We carried out 37 semi-structured interviews in seven villages.

Results

We documented the use of 84 species of plants. All local large canopy trees are used for some purpose. Smaller trees and shrubs which are particularly hard are selectively cut. The bark of a few species was used to make shoes, hats, steamers and ropes, but this tradition is nearly gone. A few species, mainly bamboo, are used for basket making, and year-old willow branches are used for brushing off the chaff during wheat winnowing.

Conclusions

The traditional use of wood materials documented suggests that some rare and endangered tree species may have been selectively cut due to their valuable wood, e.g. Fraxinus mandshurica and Taxus wallichiana var. chinensis. Some other rare species, e.g. Dipteronia sinensis, are little used and little valued.

Keywords

Minor timber forest products Non-timber forest products Taibai

Background

Construction wood and firewood are the main products of modern forestry. However local communities living in woodlands usually implement multiple uses of the forest, also involving the production of utensils, medicine and food. The importance of minor timber forest products and non-timber forest products (NTFP) has been emphasized for decades in ethnobotany, forestry, rural development etc. Some of these products may have a vital non-commercial value,others enter the cash economy and improve livelihoods [16]. Ethnobotanical works, however, often overlook the lesser-used types of wood available to local populations, emphasizing only the “non-timber” part of the ecosystem. The minor uses of wood are more closely documented in older ethnographic works. e.g. describing and documenting traditional tools and handicrafts, although the topic has also been touched upon by ethnobotany [714].

Chinese ethnobotany has been developing fast in recent years. However most papers are focused on traditional wild food and medicine, mainly among ethnic minorities. Although some papers are devoted to the issue of non-timber forest products in China [1519], we observed a lack of studies concerning the ethnobotany of traditional handicrafts and other objects made of wood. In order to fill this gap we carried out a study in the Heihe National Forest Park in the Taibai range, Shaanxi province, China. Mount Taibai, the highest of the Qinling Mountains, is one of the most species-rich and valuable parts of nature in northern China. This area has preserved a rich woodland flora and fauna, which is well-studied. An area with a rich and well-documented flora is an ideal working place for an ethnobotanist. Over the past few years some of the authors of this paper have devoted a few articles to the use of wild food plants in one of the valleys of the Taibai range, and the use and cultivation of the highly toxic Aconitum carmichaelii [2022].

Our research aimed to document minor wood uses in the Heihe valley. By this we mean any uses of wood, twigs or branches of trees, shrubs, climbers and bamboo apart from large scale construction wood or firewood. Both past uses (before the area became a national forest park) and present uses were recorded.

Methods

Study area

The study covers the Heihe National Forest Park (Fig. 1), on the southern side of the Taibai Nature Reserve, with the highest peak of northern China in the center of the reserve (Mt Taibai 3767 m a.s.l.). The nature reserve protects a highly diverse flora – from warm temperate (with subtropical elements), to alpine at the top. The National Forest Park (with a less strict protection regime) is adjacent to it, and mainly protects species-rich forests. The area is almost completely covered by ancient forest vegetation and rocky outcrops. The Heihe river valley belongs to the Houzhenzi administrative unit (town, zhen (镇)), with an area of 822 km2. It is a very isolated place, which has vehicular access to the county town of Zhouzhi (where the post-office and schools are located) only via a 2.5 h drive through a winding precipitous gorge, sometimes blocked for days by falling rocks. The whole valley is inhabited by 2813 people [23] – a quarter of them in the main settlement of Houzhenzi, and the rest in hamlets scattered throughout the forest (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

The location of the study

The studied villages lie between 1000 and 1500 m a.s.l. At these altitudes the climate is temperate, with daily temperatures in summer oscillating around 20–30 °C and winter temperatures around 10 °C to – 10 °C. The mean annual temperature in Houzhenzi is 8.2 °C, with a high rainfall of nearly 1000 mm, 44% of which is concentrated in the summer months. The dominant vegetation is the species-rich Quercus variabilis and Q. aliena var. acuteserrata forest, with an admixture of Pinus tabuliformis, and many deciduous tree species (e.g. Acer spp., Tilia spp.).

The majority of the local population are subsistence Han Chinese farmers who grow maize, potatoes, wheat and beans. Sources of cash income are the orchards of zaopi (Cornus officinalis), walnuts (Juglans regia) and northern Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum). Digging out medicinal roots and collecting medicinal herbs for wholesale buyers is also a very popular activity. The importance of tourism is increasing. A significant proportion of farms are registered as agritourist farms (nong jia le). Most tourists come from Xian and its surroundings and are attracted by the beautiful scenery and hiking opportunities.

Data collection

The field research was conducted in the summer and autumn of 2016 using the Rapid Rural Appraisal approach [24, 25], and included 37 freelisting interviews in seven villages (Fig. 1), which involved 52 people altogether. This included 39 men and 13 women as the former were more willing to talk about this topic. The mean age of the participants was 55 (aged from 39 to 87).

The research was carried out following the code of ethics of the American Anthropological Association [26] and the International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics [27]. Oral prior informed consent was acquired. The interviews were carried out in front of the dwellings of the interviewees in order to provide easy access to the tools and structures mentioned by the respondents. We asked the interviewees to list all the uses of wood, twigs or bark to make structures, tools and other objects in their own households and farms. This was the only question asked and at the beginning of the interviews no props were provided. At the end of each interview we asked to see the tools present in the yard, and sometimes more tree species were then mentioned (Figs. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23). Additionally, discussion groups were organized to cross-check the identification of specimens. The listed taxa (Tables 1, 2 and 3) were identified using specimens collected by informants in the forest or in the village. The interviews were carried out in Mandarin Chinese, which is the first language of the local population.
Fig. 2

A narrow hoe (juetou 镢头) resembling a pick-axe is a common agricultural tool, very useful in stoney mountain soil. The handle was made from a Cornus kousa branch

Fig. 3

A sickle on a long handle (liandao, 镰刀, this one made of Cornus kousa) is another indispensable tool in the area

Fig. 4

Two spade handles – the one on the left made from Meliosma wood, the one on the right from C. kousa

Fig. 5

A barrel made of Catalpa wood

Fig. 6

The commonest type of basket made of Phyllostachys bamboo. The handle was made of C. kousa

Fig. 7

Bamboo trays are commonly used to dry plants for winter

Fig. 8

Sieve walls are made of Betula albosinensis wood

Fig. 9

A ciba hammer used for pounding some foodstuffs

Fig. 10

A ladder made of Tilia

Fig. 11

A walking stick made of Berchemia sinica

Fig. 12

A broom made of locally grown Phyllostachys bamboo

Fig. 13

A cuopiao grain shovel made of Populus purdomii

Fig. 14

A plough made of Ulmus wood

Fig. 15

A harrow (mu) with ‘teeth” made of Cotinus wood

Fig. 16

Boards supporting tiles are often made of Toxicondendron vernicifluum wood

Fig. 17

Coffins are made or bought by elderly people in preparation for death and kept in the attic. These coffins were made of Tsuga chinensis

Fig. 18

A biandan carrying stick made of Morus australis wood

Fig. 19

A trough for feeding farm animals made of Castanea wood

Fig. 20

A ten-year old fence made from Cotinus sticks

Fig. 21

Traditional beehives are made of halved hollowed trunks of softwood deciduous trees (Populus, Paulownia)

Fig. 22

Up until recently electricity poles were made of Castanea trunks

Fig. 23

A washboard made of Pinus tabuliformis wood

Table 1

The main emic categories of construction and tool plant use in the studied valley

Type of use

Use reports

Most preferred/used species

Furniture

92

Prunus stellipila, Fraxinus mandshurica

Construction

91

Pinus tabuliformis, Pinus armandii

Chopping boards

81

Prunus stellipila, Betula albosinensis, Pyrus sp.

Pick-axe handles

57

Cornus kousa

Spade handles

53

Meliosma dillenifolia

Doors

52

Pinus tabuliformis, Pinus armandii

Ladders

50

Pinus armandii, Pinus tabuliformi,

Carrying sticks

44

Morus alba

Beehives

42

Populus purdomii, Paulownia tomentosa

Shoes

41

Tilia spp.

Barrels

39

Platycladus orientalis, Catalpa fargesii

Tables

38

Prunus stellipila

Hoe handles

37

Cornus kousa, Meliosma dillenifolia

Coffins

34

Tsuga chinensis

Baskets

32

Phyllostachys spp., Fargesia nitida

Rolling pins

32

Buxus sinica, Betula albosinensis, Cornus controversa, Stachyurus chinensis

Walking sticks

31

Philadelphus incanus

Chairs

28

Prunus stellipila

Windows

28

Pinus tabuliformis, Pinus armandii

Firewood

22

Quercus aliena

Roof materials

18

Cotinus coggygria

Bridges

16

Castanea mollissima

Basket Handles

15

Berchemia sinica

Fences

13

Castanea mollissima, Toxicodendron vernicifluum

Ropes

12

Pueraria montana var. lobata

Grain shovels

12

Salix spp., Pterocarya macroptera

Fork handles

11

Meliosma dillenifolia

Harrow (teeth)

10

Euonymus alatus

Sickle handles

9

Cornus kousa

Ciba Hammers

9

Eucommia ulmoides, Ulmus macrocarpa

Ploughs

6

Cornus spp., Quercus spp.

Rake handles

4

Cornus kousa

Table 2

Most salient species freelisted by the interviewees

Latin name

Smith’s Salience Index

Pinus tabuliformis Carrière

35.5

Pinus armandii Franch.

27.9

Prunus stellipila Koehne

23.5

Betula albosinensis Burkill

18.5

Cornus kousa F.Buerger ex Hance

18.0

Meliosma dilleniifolia (Wall. ex Wight & Arn.) Walp.

17.0

Fraxinus mandshurica Rupr.

16.1

Tsuga chinensis (Franch.) Pritz.

13.6

Populus purdomii Rehder

11.8

Catalpa fargesii Bureau

11.5

Quercus aliena var. acutiserrata Maxim.

11.1

Morus australis Poir.

10.8

Castanea mollissima Blume

10.4

Toona sinensis (Juss.) M.Roem.

9.6

Tilia olivieri Szyszył. and T. paucicostata Maxim.

9.4

Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle

9.0

Populus cathayana Rehder

9.0

Platycladus orientalis (L.) Franco

8.9

Phyllostachys sp.

8.5

Cornus controversa Hemsl.

7.7

Table 3

The list of species used for construction, furniture and other handicrafts

Latin name

Local name

Local name (Chines characters)

No. of citations

Part

Use

Voucher numbers, begin with WUK Kang

Pinus tabuliformis Carrière

songmu

松木

37

wood

house construction esp. roofs, furniture, ladders, beehives

K198

Prunus stellipila Koehne

kutao

苦桃

34

wood

mainly furniture and chopping boards

K101,103

Pinus armandii Franch.

madengsong

马灯松

31

wood

house construction, furniture, doors, windows, ladders

K157

Betula albosinensis Burkill

honghua, huamu,

红桦,桦木

30

wood and bark

wood for chopping boards, stools, also rolling pins; bark for hats and steamers

K164

Fraxinus mandshurica Rupr.

shuiquliu

水曲柳

30

wood

highly valued for furniture, also window frames, handles (esp. spades), carrying sticks etc.

K140

Castanea mollissima Blume

maoli

毛栗

27

wood

best for electricity posts and for boards in bridges, also pig troughs, roof elements, door frames

k132

Cornus kousa F.Buerger ex Hance

shizao

石枣子

26

wood

handles (axe, hoe, sickle), also rolling pins and stone grinder axes, and firewood

K155

Meliosma dilleniifolia (Wall. ex Wight & Arn.) Walp.

linshu, xiangnongmu

林寿,降龙木

26

wood

highly valued for handles (esp. hoe, spade and rake) - very smooth and durable

K118

Populus purdomii Rehder

dongguayang, baiyang, yangshu

冬瓜杨,白杨,杨树

26

wood

mainly for bee-hives, also “cuopiao” grain shovels

K180

Tilia olivieri Szyszył. and T. paucicostata Maxim.

duanmu, duanshu

椴木(树)

26

bark and wood

mainly bark for shoes, also wood for beehives, ladders, musical instruments, boxes and furniture

K184, K187

Catalpa fargesii Bureau

tangqiu

唐楸

23

wood

mainly for barrels, also for furniture due to its attractive texture and grain

K113

Phyllostachys sp.

shuizhu, jinzhu, banzhu, zhuzi

水竹,金竹,斑竹,竹子

23

above ground parts

mainly baskets, also basket handles, fishing rods, washing up brushes

K133, K134

Quercus aliena var. acutiserrata Maxim.

gangmu

杠木

23

wood

construction esp. for beams, pillars, floor boards; best for firewood, also handles and “muer” mushroom cultivation

K181

Tsuga chinensis (Franch.) Pritz.

zaosong

枣松

22

wood

mainly coffins and furniture, also construction (eg roof rafters) and barrels

K148

Morus australis Poir.

sangmu

桑木

21

wood

carrying sticks

K156

Philadelphus incanus Koehne

jigutou

鸡骨头

18

wood

walking sticks

K163

Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle

baichun

白椿

17

wood

furniture, esp. boards for windows and doors, also for table and chair legs and chopping boards

K177

Platycladus orientalis (L.) Franco

baimu, xiangbai

柏木,香柏

17

wood

mainly water barrels and containers, and coffins

K121

Toona sinensis (Juss.) M.Roem.

hongchun

红椿

17

wood

mainly for furniture, windows and door planks

K144

Cornus controversa Hemsl.

liangzimu

梁子木

15

wood

hard wood for chopping boards, furniture legs and rolling pins, also for handles

K109, K128

Pyrus sp.

limu

梨木

15

wood

mainly chopping boards

K165

Quercus variabilis Blume

xiangmu, xiangshu

橡木(树)

15

wood and bark

best for firewood, handles (basket, axe, plough), bark for industry and shoe soles, “muer” mushroom cultivation, furniture, boards

K160

Berchemia sinica C.K.Schneid

yagutiao

牙骨条

14

wood

mainly for walking sticks, cattle harnesses and basket handles, also pitch-fork fingers

K126

Cotinus coggygria Scop.

huanglou

黄栌

14

wood

mainly for roof elements supporting tiles, also for “mu” harrows and fence posts

K119

Magnolia sprengeri Pamp.

jiangbo, mubieshu

姜剥

14

wood

mainly for high quality chopping boards

K138

Paulownia tomentosa Steud.

tongmu

桐木

14

wood

mainly for beehives, also barrels, pot covers, ladders, coffins and low-weight boards

K170

Toxicondendron vernicifluum (Stokes) F.A. Barkley

qimu, qishu

漆木(树)

14

wood and secretion

mainly for electricity posts, also for barrels, fences, boards under tiles, stem sap used for lacquer

K152

Pueraria montana var. lobata (Willd.) Sanjappa & Pradeep

geteng, getiao

葛藤,葛条

13

wood

fibre for shoes, ropes and baskets

K143

Fargesia nitida (Mitford) Keng f. ex T.P.Yi

songhuazhu, zhuzi

松花竹,竹子

12

above-ground parts

brooms and baskets

K188

Populus cathayana Rehder

baiyang, yangmu

白杨,杨木

12

wood

mainly construction material and ladders, also fence posts, troughs and shovels

K127

Abies fargesii Franch.

pumu, pusong

朴木,朴松

11

wood

construction, coffins, ladders

K125

Salix sp.

liu, liumu, liutiao

柳,柳木,柳条

10

wood, year-old twigs, bark

shovels, twigs for baskets, bark for shoes, also firewood

K158

Cornus officinalis Siebold & Zucc.

zaopi

枣皮

9

wood

mainly handles (spades, axes) and firewood, also ploughs

K189

Pterocarya macroptera Batalin

maliu

麻柳

9

wood and bark

wood, mainly shovels and dustpans, bark for making shoes

K147

Ulmus macrocarpa Hance

yumu

榆木

9

wood

a variety of small objects: “ciba” hammers, “mu” harrows, ladders, basket handles, ploughs, furniture

K174

Amelanchier sinica (C.K.Schneid.) Chun

hongshenzi, hongshunzi

红绳子,红顺子

8

wood

mainly handles (for hoe, axe, rake), baskets

K106

Juglans regia L.

hetao

核桃

8

wood

furniture, feet of door frames

K137

Quercus spinosa David

tiejiamu

铁匠木

8

wood

mainly for handles (hoe, axe), wooden hammers, rolling pins, axes of stone grinders, firewood

K159

Symplocos paniculata (Thunb.) Miq.

baihuacha

百花茶

8

wood

handles (sickle, hoe, axe, spade)

K131

Buxus sinica (Rehder & E.H.Wilson) M.Cheng

huangyang

黄杨

7

wood

very hard wood, the best material for rolling pins and carving elements of Chinese board games “xianqi” and “majiang”

K167

Eucommia ulmoides Oliv.

duzhong

杜仲

6

wood

a very good handle for hoes, material for “ciba” hammers

K190

Fraxinus platypoda Oliv.

baixingmu

白芯木

6

wood

handles (axe, spade), also furniture esp. legs

K117

Sorbus folgneri (C.K.Schneid.) Rehder

baishenzi

白绳子

6

wood

handles (hoe, axe, spade)

K108

Acer stachyophyllum Hiern (syn. Acer tetramerum Pax)

hongliu

红柳

5

wood

handles, esp. hoe, spade and pick-axe

K175

Juglans mandshurica Maxim.

mahetao

麻核桃

5

bark

bark for shoes and ropes

K191

Picea wilsonii Mast.

zimu

紫木

5

wood

construction and coffin boards

K124

Stachyurus chinensis Franch.

tonghuagan

通花杆

5

wood

mainly rolling pins, also arms of scales, walking sticks, instruments for blowing fire

K149

Cannabis sativa L.

huoma

火麻

4

annual above ground parts

fibre for shoes and ropes

K192

Prunus tomentosa Thunb.

chuantao

川桃

4

wood

“lianjia” flails, basket handles, firewood

K161

Bassia scoparia (L.) A.J.Scott

saozhoucai

扫帚菜

3

above-ground parts

brooms

 

Betula luminifera H.J.P.Winkl.

miaoyumu

描榆木

3

wood

carrying sticks, firewood

K120

Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L’Hér. ex Vent.

goushu

构树

3

bark

bark for shoes and ropes

K176

Juniperus chinensis L.

baishu, yabei

柏树,崖柏

3

wood

decorative roots (“gendiao”), body ornaments due to pleasant smell, furniture

K129

Lonicera standishii Jacques

jigutou, paoer, yangnaishu

鸡骨头,泡儿,羊奶树

3

wood

walking sticks, handles (sickle, axe), rolling pins

K145

Maackia hupehensis Takeda

chouhuai, honghuai

臭槐,红槐

3

wood

ladders, stools, handles (wheel barrows)

K182

Prunus davidiana (Carriere) Franch.

shantao

山桃

3

wood

chopping boards, rolling pins, branches to drive ghosts away

K169

Viburnum betulifolium Batalin

cusuantiao, nuomitiao

苦酸条,糯米条

3

wood

axe handles, rolling pins, rakes, “mu” harrows

K142

Corylus heterophylla Fisch. ex Trautv.

zhenzi

榛子

2

wood

handles (hoe, axe), frames for garden climbers

K171

Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Siebold

bashu

巴树(木)

2

wood

“mu” harrows

K193

Kalopanax septemlobus (Thunb.) Koidz.

ciqiu

刺楸

2

wood

furniture

K122

Paederia foetida L.

hongteng, jishiteng

红藤,鸡屎藤

2

wood

baskets, ropes

K194

Rhododendron sp.

doujuan, pipa

杜鹃,枇杷

2

wood

rolling pins, “xiba” washing sticks

K173

Rhus potaninii Maxim.

wubeizi

五倍子

2

wood

electricity posts, barrels

K151

Sophora japonica L.

huaimu, huaishu

槐木(树)

2

wood

furniture, chopping boards

K183

Taxus wallichiana var. chinensis (Pilg.) Florin

hongdoushan

红豆杉

2

wood

barrels and containers for water

K123

Viburnum schensianum Maxim.

heichagun

黑茶棍

2

wood

mainly wooden fork fingers, also basket handles, “mu” harrows, “lianjia” flails

K179

Akebia trifoliata (Thunb.) Koidz.

mutong

木通

1

wood

ropes

 

Betula platyphylla Sukachev

huashu

桦树

1

wood

firewood

K153

Caragana arborescens Lam.

yangqiuhua

洋秋花

1

wood

brushes for cleaning kitchen pots, “mu” harrow teeth

K186

Cephalotaxus sinensis (Rehder & E.H.Wilson) H.L.Li

shubai

水柏

1

wood

basket handles

K195

Chaenomeles sinensis (Dum.Cours.) Koehne

muguahaitang

木瓜海棠

1

wood

walking sticks

k196

Crataegus cuneata Siebold & Zucc.

yeshanza

野山楂

1

wood

chopping boards, table legs

K197

Dipteronia sinensis Oliv.

shanmagan

山麻杆

1

wood

big barrels for water and alcohol fermentation

K116

Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.

jianzici

剪枝刺

1

wood

pitch-forks

K136

Juniperus squamata Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don

yabei

崖柏

1

wood

big barrels for water or spirits

K199

Larix gmelinii var. principis-rupprechtii (Mayr) Pilg.

luoyesong

落叶松

1

wood

boards

K135

Ligustrum sp.

duijetiao

对节条

1

wood

fork fingers

K162

Malus pumila Mill.

pingguoshu

苹果树

1

wood

“ciba” hammers

K166

Miscanthus sinensis Andersson

maocao

茅草

1

wood

roof thatching

K141

Prunus sp.

choutao

臭桃

1

wood

chopping boards

K102

Rhus chinensis Mill.

fulianzi

伏莲子

1

wood

charcoal for fireworks

K172

Sorbaria kirilowii (Regel & Tiling) Maxim.

gaolianggan

高粱杆

1

wood

rolling pins

K185

Vitex negundo L.

huangjintiao

黄荆条

1

wood

basket handles

k178

The authorities of Houzhenzi Forest farm in Shaanxi Forestry Bureau in Xi’an and park rangers were also consulted about the conservation status of trees in the study area.

In order to measure the cultural importance of particular wild foods we used Smith’s Salience Index [28]. The index for species A is the mean of the following ratio calculated for each free listed plant:
$$ \mathrm{Salience}\kern0.5em \mathrm{Index}\kern0.5em =\kern0.5em \frac{\mathrm{total}\kern0.5em \mathrm{no}.\kern0.5em \mathrm{of}\kern0.5em \mathrm{item}\mathrm{s}\kern0.5em \mathrm{in}\kern0.5em \mathrm{a}\kern0.5em \mathrm{list}\hbox{-} \operatorname{rank}\kern0.5em \mathrm{order}\kern0.5em \mathrm{of}\kern0.5em \mathrm{s}\mathrm{pecies}\kern0.5em \mathrm{A}\kern0.5em \left(\mathrm{starting}\kern0.5em \mathrm{from}\kern0.5em 0\kern0.5em \mathrm{for}\kern0.5em \mathrm{the}\kern0.5em 1\mathrm{st}\kern0.5em \mathrm{item}\right)}{\mathrm{total}\kern0.5em \mathrm{number}\kern0.5em \mathrm{of}\kern0.5em \mathrm{item}\mathrm{s}\kern0.5em \mathrm{in}\kern0.5em \mathrm{a}\kern0.5em \mathrm{list}} $$

Thus a species which is always quoted first gets an index which equals 1 and the items quoted at the end of the freelists tend to have Smith’s indexes close to 0.

Voucher specimens of plants were deposited in the Herbarium of the Northwest A&F University in Yangling (WUK). Plants were identified using the standard identification key concerning local floras, and their names follow the Plant List [29].

Results

Altogether, 84 species of plants were recorded as material for construction and handicraft plants (Tables 1, 2 and 3). Of these, 80 species are used for their wood and five species for bark. Two herbaceous species and two bamboo taxa were used (Table 3). The most frequently mentioned plants were: Pinus tabuliformis Carrière, Prunus stellipila Koehne, Pinus armandii Franch., Betula albosinensis Burkill, Fraxinus mandshurica Rupr., Castanea mollissima Blume, Cornus kousa F.Buerger ex Hance, Meliosma dilleniifolia (Wall. ex Wight & Arn.) Walp., Populus purdomii Rehder, Tilia olivieri Szyszył. and T. paucicostata Maxim. (Table 3). The ranking of most salient species is nearly identical to that of those most frequently mentioned (Table 2).

Both the mean and median number of species mentioned per interview was 22.

All the large-sized tree species are used in some form by the local inhabitants. Among shrubby species and small trees those which have very hard wood are used to make handles, walking sticks or small objects like forks and harrow teeth. The bark of a few species was used to make shoes, hats, steamers and ropes, but this tradition is nearly gone. A few species, mainly bamboo, are used for basket making and year-old willow branches are used for brushing off the chaff during wheat winnowing. The use of large pieces of local timber has greatly diminished due to the protection regime, and is now limited to the trees growing in the land around houses. On the other hand, the wood for such objects as tool handles, bee hives, walking sticks and carrying sticks is still commonly used from local trees.

We recorded a few dozen emic categories of use. The most frequently mentioned categories were listed in Table 1. A few of the most commonly used tree species have many uses, but among the trees used with medium frequency some have very specialized uses restricted to one particular application. For example Morus australis is the preferred wood for carrying sticks (a stick where two buckets are attached on each side), Philadelphus incanus for making walking sticks, Castanea mollissima for electricity poles, Cotinus coggygria for making small boards supporting ceramic tiles in the roof, Tsuga chinensis – coffins, Meliosma dillenifolia and Cornus kousa – tool handles. Pinus spp. is used for the main construction of houses, windows and doors. The materials for making chopping boards and rolling pins are more diverse, though for the former Prunus stellipila and for the latter Buxus sinica is preferred. Firewood is usually collected from any available wood, though Quercus and Betula are preferred.

All the households contain many self-made wooden tools. These tools are usually made only for farmers’ use and are neither bought or sold. Such items as furniture, coffins, handles or shovels are still commonly made. On the other hand the manufacturing of bark shoes disappeared in the 1980s and we could not find a single such shoe preserved in the valley, although many people still know how to make them. The production of wooden barrels is also dying out.

Discussion

It is difficult to compare our data with other places in China as similar studies are lacking.

One of the factors which makes the sale of wooden items hard, even for those skilled in making them, is the protection status of the surrounding forest. No commercial large scale logging has been performed in the area since 1987, when it was designated as a water resource area for the city of Xi’an. Wood is only cut for local purposes for farmers’ use. The monitoring of timber use is important for forest conservation [3032]. Our results suggest that some rare and endangered tree species may have been selectively cut by local people due to their valuable wood, e.g. Fraxinus mandshurica and Taxus wallichiana var. chinensis. Some other rare species, e.g. Dipteronia sinensis, are little used and little valued.

All the local large canopy trees are used for some purpose. From among smaller trees and shrubs, those which are particularly hard are selectively cut. From all the larger trees more common in the area, Pterocarya is used the least. It is also striking that only one species of Acer was mentioned, although a few other species of this genus grow in the forests. They tend, however, to grow above the villages, at slightly higher altitudes, and they are not attractive due to their shrubby growth. Some other common shrubs, like Spiraea were not mentioned either.

The use of smaller tree species is also very common, as they usually grow on farmer’s parcels. According to regulation no. 32 in chapter 5 of the “State Forest protection Laws,” [33] private trees in farmers’ parcels around their dwellings can be utilized by local residents, even in National Forest Parks. For example, local people planted a plantation of Cornus officinalis on their own land for money, but in recent years the price of the fruit of this species has become very low. So many people felled the C. officinalis plantations and the wood was used to make tools or firewood. According to the information we got from the nature conservation authorities local residents occasionally get permission to cut Castanea trees in the state part of the forest for the construction of bridges, whereas construction timber is now imported from outside the park borders. The demand for construction timber has also been diminished by the use of non-wooden construction materials (e.g. concrete). Some wood is also available to local residents as a leftover from forest management (e.g. removing trees attacked by pests).

It is very striking that hardly any superstitious beliefs were recorded when talking about trees. No trees were treated as particularly lucky (auspicious) or unlucky, as is very common in other parts of the world [34], and despite the presence of such beliefs in the traditional fengshui system [35].

Although some plant uses are well known, probably across large parts of China, particularly those concerning large hardwoods used for construction and furniture, or bamboo (see e.g. [36], some uses of rarer small trees and shrubs in handicrafts may be endemic to this part of China, and be worth recording.

Conclusions

The high diversity of woody species facilitates the preservation of rich knowledge about the properties of many lesser known kinds of wooden materials. In spite of social changes, some tools and utensils are still handmade (handles, chopping boards, furniture), whereas other handicrafts have completely disappeared (bark shoes, ropes) or are disappearing (barrels). Generally, the impact of these activities on the tree population is probably very low.

Declarations

Acknowledgments

Not applicable.

Funding

The field study and publication costs were financed by the Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China.

Availability of data and materials

A structured and organized version of the data matrix was deposited in the Digital Repository of the University of Rzeszów (http://repozytorium.ur.edu.pl/handle/item/2474). Voucher specimens were deposited in the herbarium of the Forestry Department of the North-West A&F University in Yangling (WUK).

Authors’ contributions

Field study – JK, YK, JF, ML, ŁŁ. Further elaboration of data – all the authors. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

The research adhered to the local traditions for such research and the Code of Ethics of the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE 2008). Prior oral informed consent was obtained from all study participants. No ethical committee permits were required. No permits were required to collect voucher specimens.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
College of Forestry, Northwest A&F University
(2)
Yangling Vocational & Technical College
(3)
College of Landscape Architecture and Arts, Northwest A&F University
(4)
Department of Botany, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Rzeszów

References

  1. Cunningham AB. Applied Ethnobotany; people, wild plant use and conservation: London and Sterling. London and Sterling, VA: Earth Scan Publication Limited; 2001.Google Scholar
  2. Falconer J, Koppell CR. The major significance of'minor forest products: the local use and value of forests in the West African humid forest zone. FAO Community Forestry Note; 1990.Google Scholar
  3. De Beer JH, McDermott MJ. The economic value of non-timber forest products in Southeast Asia: with emphasis on Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Amsterdam: Netherlands Committee for International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; 1989.Google Scholar
  4. Belcher B, Schreckenberg K. Commercialisation of non-timber forest products: a reality check. Dev Policy Rev. 2007;25(3):355–77.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  5. Perez MR, Byron N. A methodology to analyze divergent case studies of non-timber forest products and their development potential. For Sci. 1999;45(1):1–4.Google Scholar
  6. Chamberlain J, Bush R, Hammett AL. Non-timber forest products. Forest Prod J. 1998;48:10.Google Scholar
  7. Nedelcheva A, Dogan Y, Obratov-Petkovic D, Padure IM. The traditional use of plants for handicrafts in southeastern Europe. Hum Ecol. 2011;39(6):813–28.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  8. Nedelcheva AM, Dogan Y, Guarrera PM. Plants traditionally used to make brooms in several European countries. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2007;3(1):1.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  9. Reddy KN, Pattanaik C, Reddy CS, Murthy EN, Raju VS. Plants used in traditional handicrafts in north eastern Andhra Pradesh. Indian J Tradit Know. 2008;7(1):162–5.Google Scholar
  10. Salerno G, Guarrera PM, Caneva G. Agricultural, domestic and handicraft folk uses of plants in the Tyrrhenian sector of Basilicata (Italy). J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2005;1(1):1.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  11. Guarrera PM. Handicrafts, handlooms and dye plants in Italian folk traditions. Indian J Tradit Know. 2008;7(1):67–9.Google Scholar
  12. Ertug F. Plants used in domestic handicrafts in Central Turkey. OT Sistematic Botanik Dergisi. 1999;6(2):57–68.Google Scholar
  13. Carvalho AM, Pardo de Santayana M, Morales R. Traditional knowledge of basketry practices in a Northeastern region of Portugal. In: Ethnobotany at the junction of the Continents and the disciplines. Instanbul: Proc Fourth Int Cong Ethnobot, (ICEB 2005). 2006;335–8.Google Scholar
  14. Łuczaj Ł. Bladdernut (Staphylea Pinnata L.) in polish folklore. Rocz Polski Tow Dendrologicznego. 2009;57:23–8.Google Scholar
  15. He J, Zhou Z, Weyerhaeuser H, Xu J. Participatory technology development for incorporating non-timber forest products into forest restoration in Yunnan, Southwest China. Forest Ecol Manag. 2009;257(10):2010–6.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  16. Fu Y, Chen J, Guo H, Chen A, Cui J, Hu H. The role of non-timber forest products during agroecosystem shift in Xishuangbanna, southwestern China. Forest Policy Econ. 2009;11(1):18–25.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  17. Donovan DG. Strapped for cash: Asians plunder their forests and endanger their future. Asia-Pacific issues paper no.39. Honolulu: East-West Center; 1999.Google Scholar
  18. Ghorbani A, Langenberger G, Liu JX, Wehner S, Sauerborn J. Diversity of medicinal and food plants as non-timber forest products in Naban River watershed National Nature Reserve (China): implications for livelihood improvement and biodiversity conservation. Econ Bot. 2012;66(2):178–91.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  19. White A, Sun X, Canby K, Xu J, Barr C, Cossalter C, et al. China and the global market for forest products: transforming trade to benefit forests and livelihoods. Washington, DC: Forest Trends; 2006.Google Scholar
  20. Kang Y, Łuczaj Ł, Yes S, Zhang S, Kang J. Wild food plants and wild edible fungi of Heihe valley (Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi, central China): herbophilia and indifference to fruits and mushrooms. Acta Soc Bot Pol. 2012;81(4):405–13.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  21. Kang Y, Łuczaj Ł, Kang J, Zhang S. Wild food plants and wild edible fungi in two valleys of the Qinling Mountains (Shaanxi, central China). J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2013;9(1):26.View ArticlePubMedPubMed CentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Kang Y, Łuczaj Ł, Ye S. The highly toxic Aconitum Carmichaelii Debeaux as a root vegetable in the Qinling Mountains (Shaanxi, China). Genet Resour Crop Evol. 2012;59:1569–75.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  23. http://ww.agri.com.cn/population/610124108000.htm Accessed 20 Jan 2017.
  24. Croll EJ. Research methodologies appropriate to rapid appraisal: a Chinese experience. IDS Bull. 1984;15(1):51–6.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  25. Long CL, Wang JR. Participatory rural appraisal: an introduction to principle, methodology and application. Kunming: Yunnan Science and Technology Press; 1996.Google Scholar
  26. American Anthropological Association Code of Ethics. http://www.aaanet.org/issues/policy-advocacy/upload/AAA-Ethics-Code-2009.pdf. Accessed 10 Mar 2016.
  27. International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics(with 2008 additions). http://ethnobiology.net/code-of-ethics/Accessed 10 Mar 2016.
  28. Smith JJ. Using ANTHROPAC 3.5 and a spreadshseet to compute a free list Salience index. Cult Anthropol Methods. 1993;5(3):1–3.Google Scholar
  29. The Plant List: a working list of all plant species. http://www.theplantlist.org/ Accessed 10 Dec 2016.
  30. Yang Y. Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests: People’s Republic of China. Forests out of bounds: impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests in Asia–Pacific. Bangkok: Food and Agricultural Office of the United Nations (FAO); 2001. p. 81–102.Google Scholar
  31. Zhu C, Taylor R, Feng G. China's wood market, trade and the environment. Monmouth Junction, NJ: Science Press USA Incorporated; 2004.Google Scholar
  32. Richardson SD. Forests and forestry in China: changing patterns of resource development: Island Press; 1990.Google Scholar
  33. State Forest protection Laws [in Chinese]. http://xzzf.forestry.gov.cn/portal/zfs/s/3261/content-970346.html. Accessed 28 May 2017.
  34. De Cleene M, Lejeune M. Compendium of ritual plants in Europe. Vol. I: trees and shrubs. Ghent, Belgium: Man and Culture Publishers; 2003.Google Scholar
  35. Qiu X. Major forms and functions of rural Forest culture. Journal of Beijing Forestry Univ (Soc Sci). 2013;12(1):28–33.Google Scholar
  36. Renvoize S. From fishing poles and ski sticks to vegetables and paper – the bamboo genus Phyllostachys. Curtis's Bot Mag. 1995;12(1):8–15.View ArticleGoogle Scholar

Copyright

© The Author(s). 2017

Advertisement